Have you had a difficult time bonding with any of your dogs?

Skippy came into my life right before my life changed dramatically… had I seen the future, I’m not sure I would have brought her home…

Skippy came home and challenged me every day- she was a puppy unlike one I’d raised before. We butted heads, she pushed boundaries, and honestly, I really struggled to bond with her.

I brought her home to start training to demo with me at class— to “take over” for my shepherd. I had it planned out, two years in training with Billie showing her the way.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Two months into the whirlwind of puppy nonsense- our shepherd Billie received a cancer diagnosis and passed quickly afterward…

Which made the process of bonding with Skippy more difficult for me as I grieved my shepherd, as I grieved my soul dog, a dog that changed my life immensely in so many ways…. I was not in a place to let another dog in… Yet I was faced with Skippy and my commitment to her.

I had a huge task ahead of me while I grieved, training Skippy. She needed to be ready for my next season instead of using the next two years to get her there… The first year was rough; she was a good dog but not my favorite dog to demo with, but we were working together, and things were getting easier. Unfortunately, it took me two years to get to the point where I wasn’t just tolerating my dog.

Over the past three years, our bond has grown and changed, and it is a very different bond than I had with my shepherd…. She’s been my calm buddy that grounds me, that loves to go to work with me, happy-go-lucky and goofy girl. This is the bond I dreamed of— and fought hard to get!

How do we start bonding when we’re struggling so much?!

So what do we do if we find ourselves struggling a year or two down the road with bonding, puppy blues, and struggling to love the dog we were once so excited to bring home??

The first thing is to acknowledge that you’re struggling and recognize your thoughts, and I’m not suggesting that you announce it to the world but to yourself. I have people that tell me all the time that they are struggling, and they are always relieved to hear they aren’t alone in the struggle and relieved that they have that “secret” off their chest. It frees you up to start bonding.

The second thing I recommend is to stop comparing them to your other dog(s). I wanted Skippy to be Billie so badly. I see this often with people getting a dog quickly(or months/years later) and want them to fill the hole their other dog left… and they, unfortunately, can’t. Still, you can develop a new relationship– I don’t think you experience the same experience with a dog…each new dog that comes into your home will be a different experience… I had to find something to do with Skippy aside from just taking her to work with me….

Third– Find an activity you can love together. Again, this may be easy, or you might have to try a few things to find the thing that helps you build a solid bond. Playing games, agility, hiking buddy, snuggle buddy, there are many things out there. But we need something separate.

Lastly, training can be a fantastic bonding tool. Our goal in training is to allow us to become the best thing in our dog’s world. If we can do this, they are more attuned to us, want to be with us, and we start to feel closer. I know this is a big part of my bonding with Skippy… training daily regardless of whether I wanted to do so or not. The bonding process may take a long time and may happen quickly, but most times, it happens little by little, and it isn’t obvious I LOVE THIS DOG moment.

Building that connection can be hard, but it is so worth the time and effort. What has your experience with bonding been like?

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